Fans of CeeDee Lamb have been looking forward all season to the day when the third-year receiver would have a breakout game – the kind of game that would silence critics and affirm our belief that he is deserving of the position he holds as WR1 and a star on the team. That day finally came this past Sunday when Lamb caught a career-high 11 passes for 150 yards. He also scored two touchdowns (another career high) for the first time since Week 10 of 2021 when the Cowboys hosted the Atlanta Falcons.
This storyline was buried, however, by disappointment over a surprising loss to the struggling Green Bay Packers. The Packers overcame a 14-point score differential in the 4th quarter and ultimately took the victory in overtime. The salient debates over who was to blame for the let-down did not leave much room for recognizing Lamb's achievements.
Lamb, himself, did not seem impressed or even all that happy about the career milestones he'd achieved. On Thursday, when asked if he felt like he had played his best or most impactful game on Sunday, he replied, “No. I could be better.”
Lamb did not expound on what he felt was missing from Sunday's performance. Perhaps he thought that despite recording more receiving yards than he ever has, a few more would have put the team over the top. Maybe he felt that even though he caught more passes than ever, those two interceptions were enough to nullify his impact on the game. It's even possible that, like many fans, CeeDee is comparing himself to a potential version of himself that has yet to become reality.
What Could CeeDee Do Better?
During that same conversation on Thursday, reporters asked Lamb about Justin Jefferson, the Vikings wide receiver who the Cowboys will face this Sunday when they travel to Minnesota. Jefferson was drafted several spots after Lamb in 2020 but seems to be surpassing Lamb in most rankings of the NFL's top receivers.
While CeeDee has recorded one more touchdown than Jefferson so far this season, Jefferson ranks higher than him in total receptions, total receiving yards, and average yards per catch. Fans of CeeDee are rightfully excited for his first 100-yard game of the season, but Jefferson has already hit that mark six times so far this season. He even came close to 200 yards on Sunday when the Vikings defeated the Bills in an overtime thriller. Justin Jefferson became a trending topic on NFL Twitter when he hauled in a one handed catch that some argue is one of the most impressive catches in NFL history.
The Bigger Picture
A deeper look into CeeDee's overall performance paints an even more vivid picture of what the Cowboys star receiver would have to do in order to go from being good to being elite. Every week, ESPN Analytics uses player tracking data from NFL Next Gen Stats to “evaluate every route a pass catcher runs and scores his performance in three phases of the game, from 0 to 99.” Currently, CeeDee has an overall score of 63 while the top 5 receivers in the league have scores of 83 or better. His highest score is in the category of getting open. His score of 77 puts him just below 5th ranked Davante Adams who has a score of 83 in that phase. Lamb performs much worse, however, when it comes to getting catches and yards after the catch. In those categories, he has scores of 44 and 47 respectively.
CeeDee Lamb would have to replicate performances like what he had on Sunday almost every week for the rest of the season in order to be mentioned in the same conversations as Justin Jefferson, to put it quite literally. Lamb has never been so brash or brazen that he publicly demanded more targets or scoring opportunities, but he has made general claims that he wants to be the best. Right now, critics and analysts consider receivers like Jefferson to be among the best. So while he calls himself a “fan” of Jefferson's ascension to star status, it would only make sense for CeeDee to want the same type of acclivity.
Winning is Everything
One more likely explanation for CeeDee's apathy lies with the end result of the game against the Packers. CeeDee Lamb has not held back when it comes to expressing the importance of winning. After a team win, he is observably more joyous and expresses more pride in the team's performance regardless of what's contained in the box score. In the past, when he's responded to questions about criticism in the media, competition for targets, or the possibility of bringing additional receivers onto the team, he has consistently expressed that winning is the most important thing. Even after the loss to the Packers, Lamb shirked questions about the chemistry between him and Dak Prescott by saying, “We come here to win. We're not here to build a bond.” Hopefully by now, Lamb has had time to reflect on the connection between the relationship he has with his quarterback and the team's success.
Whether he was referencing his personal performance or the team's success when he mentioned being better, the factors within his control are mostly the same. He'll need to find a way to stay on the same page as Dak, keep improving his route running, and keep his dropped passes to a minimum. Most fans have already noticed that he's gotten much better at holding on to the ball even through triple coverage and contact with the ground. This past Sunday was also the first time in a while that CeeDee received such high praise for his route running.
In short, if CeeDee is indeed quietly aiming for elite status as a receiver, the results will be good both for him and for the team.